Eavesdropping on an Elusive Cat
“New research methods help scientists track the Canada lynx
THE FOREST HAS EYES—the eyes of a creature so solitary it’s rarely seen in the wild, even by the biologists who study it. Somewhere in the shadows of a winter dusk that falls over Kluane Wildlife Sanctuary in Canada’s Yukon, those eyes are watching—and they belong to the Canada lynx.
This elusive boreal forest wild cat ranges across Canada, Alaska and northern areas of the contiguous United States, easily navigating deep snow on its snowshoelike paws as it hunts for its main prey, snowshoe hares. Now, researchers have devised a way of spying on this furtive species, even recording sounds of the hunt.
“Observing animals in the wild, especially those like lynx that roam across vast landscapes, is extremely challenging,” says wildlife ecologist Emily Studd of the University of Toronto–Mississauga. “We had to resort to sneakier ways,” including “spy microphones”—acoustic recorders attached to GPS collars—and the equivalent of Fitbits for lynx, called accelerometers, which track the cat’s speed and distance. Over five winters from 2015 to 2020, Studd and her colleagues—Allyson Menzies of the University of Guelph and Rachael Derbyshire of Trent University—livetrapped Canada lynx in southwestern Yukon. The team used custom-made box traps baited with roadkill, scented with essence of skunk and lined with what the scientists call visual attractants: tinsel and compact discs, which glint in sunlight. The lures worked, allowing the team to trap 131 adult lynx—60 distinct individuals.
The team sedated the cats to weigh them and take blood samples, then fitted them with GPS collars and accelerometers. Twenty-six individuals got acoustic recorders. “When we figured out how to attach a small microphone to our lynx collars,” says Studd, “it opened a whole new world.”
Much to the researchers’ initial surprise, “these recorders were very effective at capturing the behavior of the lynx,” Studd says. “We were able to listen in on cats being cats.” The devices caught the lynx grooming, sleeping, purring and growling. They also captured hunting behavior—chases, kills and feeding on prey—which the team believes are the first audio recordings of hunting behavior in a terrestrial mammal.
To read the full article about the Canada Lynx from the National Wildlife Federation, click here.
Photo Credit: Original Author